EdTech Startup Q&A with Anant Agarwal, CEO of edX
Today’s edtech startup Q&A features Anant Agarwal, CEO of EdX, an MIT-Harvard collaboration that has become one of the most well-known platforms for mobile open online courses (MOOCs) in the world.
EdX is an open-source, nonprofit online learning destination and MOOC provider that offers high-quality online courses from the world’s best universities and institutions to learners everywhere. Founded by Harvard University and MIT in May 2012, edX’s mission is to democratize and reimagine education by increasing worldwide educational access and creating a culture of continuous, lifelong learning. Anyone, anywhere with a desire to learn and an Internet connection can take high-quality online courses on edx.org.
Company at a Glance
Company name: edX
Year founded: 2012
Founder: Founded by MIT and Harvard. Anant Agarwal was the founding CEO and President
Founder’s Twitter: @agarwaledu
Company market segment: edtech, MOOCs, online education
What does your company do? Who are your core customers?
EdX offers high-quality online courses from the world’s best universities and institutions to learners everywhere. Anyone, anywhere with a desire to learn and an Internet connection can take high-quality online courses on edx.org.
How did you come across the problem you’re addressing? What was your process of arriving at a solution?
Up to now, quality education—and in some cases, any higher education at all—has been the privilege of the few. At edX, we see MOOCs as the great democratizer, and believe that in the future, economics, social status, gender, or geography will not determine a student’s access to education or opportunity for success.
What are you doing differently than your competitors? Do you expect to develop other differentiators in the future?
EdX is a nonprofit, open-source platform, which differentiates us from our competitors. As a nonprofit, we are able to focus on people, not profits. In June 2013, we made our platform open source, creating a collaborative environment where contributors worldwide work with us to develop enhancements and new features. An open-source platform aligns with our mission to open up and increase access to high-quality education for all.
We will continue to look for and explore areas where we can differentiate ourselves and connect with learners around the globe.
What are you working on currently? What should we expect to see from your company in the next 12 months? (e.g. product milestones, team size, potential growth/revenue targets)
We envision a continuous education system—one that doesn’t stop after four years of college. Our vision for the future is to continue to work with universities, institutions, faculty, researchers, and students to innovate and transform education, to make education accessible to everyone, and to improve on-campus learning through research.
We will continuously experiment with online education, and explore new opportunities such as the unbundling of content and time, credit, and credentialing.
We are excited to see where online learning goes in the next five, 10, 20 years and beyond.
How are you changing the face of education?
We are increasing access to high-quality education for learners everywhere like never before. Now, and in the future, economics, social status, gender or geography will not determine a student’s access to education or opportunity for success.
We are also working to close knowledge and skills gaps. Our high school initiative, which covers AP exam preparation and introductory courses, is helping bridge the learning gap between high school and college and university. Additionally, our skills-focused courses, like computer science, are helping people stay on top of the latest trends and knowledge to further their careers. With MOOCs and edX, learning can be continuous and lifelong and can be accessed from learners’ homes or on-the-go via mobile.
What other startups or product builds have you been a part of, and what was your role? How has your past career prepared you for your current role?
I founded Tilera Corporation which created the Tile multicore processor and I served as its Chief Technology Officer.
Who do you look to as a role model or mentor for your company?
The man to whom I largely owe my career once called me a “son of an eagle.” From a notoriously cantankerous and curmudgeonly high school teacher, that was meant neither as a term of endearment nor as an epithet of soaring praise.
J.L. Saldanha was a math teacher at St. Aloysius, the public school I attended in Mangalore, Karnataka, India. He taught high school math, mostly with a focus on geometry.
In a lot of ways, I was a misguided teenager when I first stepped into Mr. Saldanha’s class. That was not how I left, however. Mr. Saldanha changed my life.
I’ve since gone on to become a teacher myself and have always been passionate about creating new learning opportunities for anyone willing to push themselves. I believe that Mr. Saldanha’s mentorship has been the inspiration for much of that. It has informed my teaching at MIT and my passion for bringing high-quality online education to learners around the world with edX.
Where do you think the education technology market is going in the next five years, especially in your market segment?
I think education technology will continue to explore new forms of credit and credentialing. Our recent collaboration with ASU on the Global Freshman Academy, a first of its kind collaboration that offers full university freshman level courses for credit, and our work with MIT on its Supply Chain Management MicroMaster’s, a program that invites students to complete MIT’s top-ranked Supply Chain Management (SCM) Master’s Program by taking half of the program’s courses via edX as well as offering an option to complete a “MicroMaster’s,” which can be earned by taking all SCM courses via edX and passing a comprehensive examination, are two exciting credit initiatives. We look forward to working with our partners to offer additional educational pathway and credentialing opportunities for learners around the world.
Hannah Nyren is the General Manager of EdTech Times. A Texan by birth but a Bostonian at heart, Hannah is an educational writer, AmeriCorps alum, and one-time StartupWeekend EDU (SWEDU) winning team member. She started her career at a Pearson-incubated edtech startup, but has since covered travel, food & culture, and even stonemasonry in addition to education.